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Jack LaLanne Died But His Message Never Will

Jack LaLanne, dead at age 96.

When I was in Kindergarten, this bully-type named Paul said something to me I’ll never forget. “My dad could beat up your dad.” Guess what? He was right. After all, his dad was super-fit, not to mention nearly twenty years younger than my father (who was almost 50 at the time). So I countered with the first thing that came to mind.

“Oh yeah? Well my dad’s older than your dad.”

Crickets.

My dad never committed to fitness, which meant that he was never in very good shape. But that fact had nothing to do with his age. And Jack LaLanne was living proof of that.

CNN, and countless other media outlets reported that the fitness legend died yesterday from respiratory failure stemming from pneumonia. He had been sick for the past week. Long before it was cool to stay in shape, LaLanne did just that. But not only did he espouse a healthy lifestyle, he was also the Evil Kenevil of fitness, known as much for his various feats of strength and endurance as he was for his overall physical condition. In 1954, while shackled with 140 pounds, LaLanne swam the length of the Golden Gate Bridge. LaLanne also made the treacherous swim from Alcatraz Island to Fisherman’s Warf multiple times. A few of them while handcuffed. And pulling boats.

The first time I heard that LaLanne had made those swims while running with a friend who lived in San Francisco. In those days, I ran regularly, some might even say pathologically. I was no stranger to running marathons or going on arduous hikes. Living in Seattle gave me countless opportunities to engage in such physical pursuits, and by the time I hit 30, I was in the best shape of my life.

I’ve managed to maintained a decent fitness level since. Until recently, that is. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not exactly in horrible shape right now. Within the past year, I backpacked 80 miles in 5 days on the Appalachian Trail.

But these days, I tend to work out only when there’s something physically demanding looming in my immediate future. I chalk up my relative inactivity to garden-variety time constraints. And there is some truth to it. With three toddlers, four children and a fifth due in July, I don’t exactly have the time I did when I became so fit in my late 20s. Still, there has to be a way I can split the difference between my activity level then and my activity level now — a fact I was pondering just last night while helping the triplets brush their teeth.

I thought back to when Caroline was carrying the triplets and how I wanted to shed a few pounds so that when the triplets were older, they’d see a fit daddy holding them in their baby pictures. I don’t know why that mattered to me, except, I suppose that I was always aware that my own father wasn’t very fit and I wanted to break that chain. And that I wanted to be in good enough shape to live life to the fullest with them. Which brings me to a…

Silly dream alert:

One day, I’d love to through-hike the entire Appalachian Trail with any of my children who might want to attempt such a feat. I’ve thought of pitching the concept to a publisher one day and chronicling the adventure in a book I’d call Appalachian Trail Trips, the word “Trips” being a double entendre.

I literally laughed out loud at the prospect of that dream last night. It was so farfetched even before we conceived number five. Now? It seems like an impossibility. By the time our fifth child comes of age, I’ll be 60. And 60 seems awfully old to be fit enough to endure that type of endeavor.

Unless you’re Jack LaLanne. He could have done it at 60, no questions asked.

In my 20s being fit was important to me personally. Now in my 40s, I find myself yearning for a similar level of physical fitness. Only now it has far less to do with me and much more to do with my children. I’m hopeful that I’ll return to my old ways. Maybe LeLanne’s passing will inspire me to do just that.

Rest in peace, Jack LaLanne. You will continue to serve as a fine example for us all.

Image: Wikipedia

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